The pope’s surprise resignation announcement Monday will be the beginning of a learning experience for young Catholics, one local education official said.

Natalie Wrobel, principal at Sacred Heart School, 426 S. Cedar St., Ottawa, said her students will get the opportunity to see first-hand what they previously only have been able to learn about in books and lectures — the transition from one pope to another. The leader of the Catholic faith, Pope Benedict XVI issued his resignation effective Feb. 28. Citing nonspecific health reasons, Benedict’s announcement is the first of its kind in more than 600 years for the church.

“I know [teachers in] the older grades are explaining what’s going on ... with the understanding that it is Pope Benedict’s love for the church that he’s making this decision to step down because of his health,” Wrobel said, noting the historic nature of the situation for the church, which has more than 6 million members worldwide. The pope’s resignation likely will be mentioned in the younger classes, she said, but not as in-depth.

 Benedict was born April 16, 1927, in Marktl Am Inn, Bavaria. At 85, he has served as the Catholic leader for nearly eight years, following the death of Pope John Paul II. While he did not give a specific reason for his resignation in his early Monday morning announcement, Benedict’s words pointed to his failing health.

“In today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me,” Benedict announced from the Vatican.

Wrobel, who has been the principal at Sacred Heart for eight months, said she was surprised by the announcement. Her shock stemmed from a lack of information about the pope’s health, she said.

“I really didn’t realize the extent of his illness and his sickness,” she said. “And I don’t think we truly know — I don’t think it’s truly been let out — exactly what it is that he’s suffering from. So, it was definitely a shock.”

Students at Sacred Heart typically learn about how the pope is selected as leader of the church in fourth and fifth grades. Now the entire student body — pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, which numbers almost 80 children — will have the opportunity to see first-hand the coverage when the cardinals and bishops come together to choose the next leader to fill that “incredible role,” the school’s principal said.

“[We are explaining to them] this is the process that we do to elect a new pope, so that’s probably the extent of it,” Wrobel said. “They’ll probably pull up some of the different news channels that are covering this whole process ... and have the kids watch it directly in the classroom.”